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Onassis v. Christian Dior-New York, Inc.

Supreme Court of New York, Special Term, New York County

January 11, 1984

No Number in Original

Opinion

 [*603] OPINION OF THE COURT

 [**256]  This case poses for judicial resolution the question of whether the use for commercial purposes of a "lookalike" of a well-known personality violates the right of privacy legislatively granted by enactment of sections 50 and 51 of the Civil Rights Law. Put another way, can one person enjoin the use of someone else's face? The questions appear not to have been definitively answered before.

Plaintiff, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, former First Lady of the United States, widow of President [***3]  John F. Kennedy, one of the world's most powerful men, and of Aristotle Onassis, one of the world's wealthiest men, but a well-known personality in her own right, moves for a  [*604]  preliminary injunction under the Civil Rights Law to restrain defendants, all of whom were associated with an advertising campaign to promote the products and the image of Christian Dior -- New York, Inc., from using or distributing a certain advertisement, and for associated relief. She alleges simply in her complaint that defendants have knowingly caused the preparation and publication of an advertisement for Dior products which includes her likeness in the form of a photograph of lookalike Barbara Reynolds; that Reynolds' picture causes her to be identified with the ad to which she has not given her consent; that this was a violation of her rights of privacy and that it caused her irreparable injury.

Defendant, Christian Dior -- New York, Inc., is the corporate entity which controls advertising and publicity for the 35 United States licensees who sell varied lines of merchandise under the coveted Dior label.  [**257]  The use of a well-known designer name in marketing goods is to render the [***4]  product distinctive and desirable, to impart to the product a certain cachet, and to create in the public a mind-set or over-all impression so that the designer names are readily associated and become synonymous with a certain status and class of qualities.

So it was that J. Walter Thompson's Lansdowne Division, in conjunction with noted photographer Richard Avedon, hit upon the idea of a running series of ads featuring a trio known as the Diors (one female and two males), who were characterized by an article in Newsweek magazine as idle rich, suggestively decadent, and aggressively chic. Indeed, it was suggested that this menage a trois, putatively inspired by the characters portrayed by Noel Coward, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in Coward's 1933 play "Design for Living", would become the most notorious personae in advertising since Brooke Shields refused to let anything come between her and her Calvins (for the uninitiated, blue jeans advertised under designer Calvin Klein's label). To emphasize the impression of the unconventional, the copy for one ad had read, "When the Diors got away from it all, they brought with them nothing except 'The Decline of the West' and one toothbrush."  [***5]  Evidently, to stir comment, the relationship portrayed in the ad campaign  [*605]  was meant to be ambiguous, "to specify nothing but suggest everything." The 16 sequential ads would depict this steadfast trio in varying situations leading to the marriage of two (but not the exclusion of the third), birth of a baby, and their ascent to Heaven (subject to resurrection on demand).

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122 Misc. 2d 603 *; 472 N.Y.S.2d 254 **; 1984 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2874 ***; 10 Media L. Rep. 1859

Jacqueline K. Onassis, Plaintiff, v. Christian Dior -- New York, Inc., et al., Defendants

CORE TERMS

picture, advertisement, portrait, resemblance, photograph, well-known, privacy, exploitation, depiction, convey, recognizable, injunction, television, lookalike, portrayed, campaign, legendary, humor

Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Procedural Matters, Criminal Penalties, Torts, Invasion of Privacy, Appropriation, General Overview, Civil Procedure, Remedies, Injunctions, Permanent Injunctions, Governments, Courts, Common Law, Legislation, Interpretation, Statutory Remedies & Rights